By Eric Thorne
Holy Cross senior Olivia Morabito and Fairdale freshman Jaida Wiggins were stuck to each other all night. However, it was Wiggins slipping free for a layup with just under 10 seconds left and assured her team of a trip to the Sixth Region tournament for the first time in five years with a 60-58 victory.
Morabito got one final shot off with 2.2 seconds left from the corner, but it careened up and over the backboard in the semifinals of the girl’s 21st District basketball tournament at Valley. The Cougar senior had drained seven three-pointers in the game and finished with 28 points.
“I had a look for a moment and then she (Wiggins) stepped in front, it wasn’t a great look though and not much time,” Morabito said. “They left me open a few times and I was able to hit them but there were some things they called against us they didn’t’ call against them.”
Wiggins asked for the assignment to guard and chase Morabito in the second half.
“Shooters want the ball and if they can’t get the ball then someone else has to try and score so I wanted to stop her,” Wiggins said. “This win means everything for us trying to rebuild the Fairdale program. It was a really good game.”
The Lady Bulldogs (16-11) enjoyed a big edge from the free throw line as they hit 13 of 20, including Wiggins’ 9 of 12. Holy Cross (13-15) was just 2 of 4 from the line.
Ironically Holy Cross hit a season high 10 of 15 from behind the arc.
“We’ve been playing loose lately and I always tell the girls if you get the open look then take the shot and they did tonight,” Cougars’ first year coach Chris Jefferson said. “I just feel bad for the girls. I could not have asked for a better group of girls who put up with my yelling and a new style and gave it their all this season.”
Fairdale was a 70-65 winner over the Cougars back in December in the fourth game of the season for both teams. The last time the Lady Bulldogs defeated Holy Cross prior to the year was back on Feb. 22, 2007.
There were eight lead changes and three ties in the first half. Despite having a chaser at all times as Morabito sank four from 3-point range – all at different points around the arc.
“I have learned so much from Coach Jefferson this year and I got to play with a great group of teammates,” Morabito said. “This is a tough loss because we were really playing well and ready to play.”
The sharp shooting Morabito constantly drew the attention of Fairdale coach Marco Price.
“Your sole job is to stay with her at all times,” Price explained to Kaila Goode during a timeout. “I don’t care if she goes out into the lobby you follow her there.”
Fairdale had a decided height advantage inside with Deasia Johnson reaching over the Cougars for rebounds. She had eight first half points and finished with 12 points.
Wiggins stepped to the foul line and made all eight foul shots in the first half as the Lady Bulldogs were 9 of 11 while Holy Cross didn’t shoot any.
Fairdale moved ahead in the third with four threes in the quarter while Holy Cross had one each from Brooke Blackwell and Morabito. The Lady Bulldogs led 52-49 as Wiggins nailed one at the buzzer.
Blackwell, one of four seniors, finished with 11 points, six rebounds and three assists.
“I think we came in ready to play and we played really well except they got a lot more foul shots then we did,” Blackwell said. “We battled hard and I think did the things we could to win but just didn’t get the last one to fall. It’s a tough way to end the season. We didn’t’ want it to end.”
Johnson picked up her third foul for Fairdale as the quarter opened and was not a force. Morabito hit her sixth three-pointer at the 5:35 mark gave the Cougars the lead back at 53-52. It was their first lead since 34-32 to start the second half.
Morabito sank her final three to give Holy Cross a 58-53 lead, but free throws by Valerie Johnson and a layup by Wiggins knotted it at 58-58.
“We have been building for this and it means a lot to finally make the regionals,” Price said. “Wiggins makes things happen with her defense and said at halftime she wanted to guard her (Morabito) so I said she all yours.”
With Fairdale holding for a last shot, Morabito managed a steal with 0:22 left, unfortunately the ball went off her foot as she raced down sideline. On the ensuring play she was then hit in the face by while trying to trap Wiggins, but that didn’t draw a whistle. Wiggins then went past a stunned Morabito for the winning layup. She finished with a team-high 23 for the Lady Bulldogs.
“I was actually just hoping to get a foul called on them but managed to get the ball to fall,” Wiggins said.
For Jefferson the loss was tough but he the future is bright with young talent. Lauren Schraut (7 points), Kailey Reed (six points) and Madison Turner gave quality minutes off the bench.
“These girls gave their all and we had a shot at the end and I could not be more proud,” Jefferson said. “We shot the ball very well and played some of the best ball we’ve played all year.”
Fairdale will meet either Valley or Pleasure Ridge Park in the championship game at 6 p.m. on Friday at Valley.